It's as quick as a glance at a cellphone screen to see who's calling or the instinct to reach and answer a ringing phone; as innocent as petting the furry, four-legged passenger traveling beside you; as mundane as hunt-and-pecking a street address into a G P S system between green lights. Distracted driving is the cause of nine deaths and more than 1,000 injuries every day in the U. S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Although talking on a cellphone and texting while driving are often cited as examples of distracted driving, the science behind the real causes and results of distracted driving is a little more complex. Recent research in neuroscience confirms what many drivers may instinctively know but often forget: driving requires high-level brain power. In addition to processing large amounts of visual information (street signs, other drivers, road conditions), drivers also have to predict and react to what other drivers are doing and coordinate hand activity on the steering wheel with foot activity on the gas, brake and clutch. These are essential functions when driving.
Then there is the additional, non-essential multi-tasking, such as switching radio stations, talking to a passenger or yelling at another driver, or taking a sip of coffee. These activities and others like them can decrease the brain's ability to handle essential functions for driving
A brain scan (below) shows the impact additional activity may have on the brain. In a distracted driving simulation conducted in 2008 by Carnegie Mellon University's Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging , participants were asked to listen and respond to sentences while driving. Researchers found that when drivers listened, activity in the area of the brain that processes space and movement decreased; instead, brain activity shifted to the frontal areas of the brain that handle language. The result? Drivers were less likely to see and more likely to hit objects in the simulation.
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The CDC classifies driving distractions in three categories:
Cognitive distractions cause your mental focus to drift while driving. Examples include:
Visual distractions cause your eyes to wander from the road. Examples include:
states ban all texting while driving. Montana and Arizona have no ban; Missouri has a partial ban on drivers 21 and younger.
Manual distractions cause you to take one or both of your hands off of the steering wheel. Examples include:
Texting while driving hits all three categories of distracted driving—cognitive, visual and manual. In one study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration , drivers took their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds when sending or reading a text message. How does that level of distraction translate in the real world? Its like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.
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